Three score and fifteen years ago, two artists brought forth inside a comic book a new vehicle, conceived in Gotham and dedicated to the proposition that Batman needs a cool car. Though the Caped Crusader had been zooming through back alleys in a red sports car since 1939, his insurance rates presumably increased, and the writers felt a more distinctive style was in order. And thus, the Batmobile roared to life 75 years ago, in March 1941’s Batman #5.
In honor of this Batmanniversary and the iconic car’s recent spin in the spotlight as the subject of a federal circuit court opinion, and in celebration of watching Superman punch Ben Affleck several times in the newly-released Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, let’s explore a few of the many times the Dark Knight has had his day in court.
DC Comics v. Towle, 802 F.3d 1012 (9th Cir. Cal. 2015)
Last year, the Ninth Circuit Court league of justices bookmarked their comic books and emerged from their parents’ basements to delineate the Batmobile’s characteristics. According to the opinion, the Dark Knight’s ride is always “ready to leap into action to assist Batman in his fight against Gotham’s most dangerous villains, and [is] equipped with futuristic weaponry and technology that is ‘years ahead of anything else on wheels.’” Further, as the court noted, sounding a little impressed, it “always contains the most up-to-date weaponry and technology. At various points in the comic book, the Batmobile contains a ‘hot-line phone . . . directly to Commissioner Gordon’s office’ maintained within the dashboard compartment, a ‘special alarm’ that foils the Joker’s attempt to steal the Batmobile, and even a complete ‘mobile crime lab’ within the vehicle.” Having set forth these and others of the car’s features, the court then decided that only Batman can drive the Batmobile.
When the orphaned crime fighter’s real-world parent, DC Comics, sued Mark Towle, builder of unlicensed Batmobile replicas, the justices found the hero’s car, though drastically changing in appearance over the years more than Michael Jackson, to be a distinct character. As such, the Batmobile is subject to copyright restrictions and owned by DC, and Towle stands on the same side of the law as the Joker. Although the roguish mechanic plans to appeal to the Supreme Court, it’s unlikely that it will hear his case, leaving Towle with little more than an injunction and a lame criminal backstory. Ultimately, the Ninth Circuit gave the Caped Crusader the last word: “As Batman so sagely told Robin, ‘In our well-ordered society, protection of private property is essential.’”
Batman v. The Dark Knight (threatened, 2008)
A Turkish town seemed to have mistaken Batman’s true origin story of a man who, driven to avenge his parents’ death, dresses as a bat to frighten the superstitious and cowardly lot of criminals for that of a man drunkenly planting a finger on a spinning globe and naming himself after wherever it landed. In 2008, Huseyin Kalkan, mayor of Batman, Turkey – named after the nearby Bati Raman Mountain – believed that director of The Dark Knight movie trilogy, Christopher Nolan, and producer Warner Brothers “used the name of our city without informing us.” Essentially, Batman threatened to sue The Dark Knight over “Batman.”
According to Mayor Kalkan, “There is only one Batman in the world,” and the psychological toll on its citizens of the imposter films’ successes was responsible for the city’s high suicide rate, its many unsolved murders, and the problems natives find when attempting to register businesses overseas. I can’t comment on the former two complaints, but I can certainly see eyebrows raised when foreign officials receive forms from companies with names like Batman Incorporated. No formal charges were ever filed, but the world now knows there’s a death-addled town in Turkey called Batman that could do with a crime-fighter or two.
Fortres Grand Corp. v. Warner Bros. Entm’t Inc., 763 F.3d 696 (7th Cir. Ind. 2014)
Software developer Fortres Grand did bring Warner Brothers to court over its Batman-related word choice. In the film The Dark Knight Rises, burglar Catwoman seeks a “clean slate” program to erase all trace of herself from every criminal database on the planet, which reminded Fortres Gran of their own real-life internet-history wiping software “Clean Slate,” in much the same way actor Jamie Foxx is reminiscent of the movie The Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Indiana Circuit Judge Manion’s dicta considerately provided a “*Spoiler Alert*” before giving away the film’s plot details relevant to the case. In the course of the opinion holding Fortres Gran’s claim – that the film had caused confusion about their product and a subsequent decrease in sales – to be implausibly alleged, Judge Manion shifted his pocket protector, pushed the bridge of his glasses up, and nasally cited Wikipedia in a footnote explaining the efficacy of the film’s “clean slate” program: “Unlike other depictions of Batman, such as his appearance in the Justice League comics, there are no alien races from other planets, so wiping all traces of oneself from earth’s databases is sufficient.” Glad that’s cleared up.
Batman v. Commissioner, 189 F.2d 107 (1951)
Though the Caped Crusader features nowhere in this case, Ray Batman’s appeal of an IRS decision before Chief Judge Hutcheson must be mentioned for the caption alone. In a rare turn of events, Batman lost.
Pictured: Artist’s rendering of Judge Hutcheson
Batman v. The World (Shockingly Often)
Courts encounter Batpeople shockingly often, from the Scottish rugby star who slugged another player while clad as Batman, to the Batmask-donning wife of a crooked Brooklyn attorney on trial, to the Milwaukee man told by a judge to stop clumsily leering on rooftops while dressed as a bat, to the perp delivered to police by an old Englishman wearing a homemade Batman costume; and the list goes on. If this survey has taught me one thing, it’s that the world is sometimes a guano crazy place in need of a hero. If I’ve learned a second thing, it’s that, unless that hero is Batman, they can’t call their car “the Batmobile.”